If you’re looking for a Florida vacation without the hustle and bustle of the big touristy beach towns but with lots to do and see, then make plans to visit a real hidden treasure on Florida’s Atlantic coast – Indian County. River.
The Indian River is located between Cape Canaveral and West Palm Beach and is part of the Treasure Coast, an area where many shipwrecks – some dating back to the early 1700s – have sunk with their precious cargo still on board.
The county truly lives up to its “Shoreline, Not High Rises” moniker with miles and miles of white sand beaches, surf, and the quintessential tropical foliage and vibe that gives it its other nickname, “Gateway to the Tropics”.
Here are seven reasons to make Indian River County your next vacation destination.
Indian River County is the perfect place to catch the waves and do some surfing. The location is under the radar of most surfers who prefer to flock to Cocoa Beach and South Beach in Miami.
A favorite destination is Sebastian Inlet State Park. The park has over 3 miles of shoreline with ample, uncrowded access to crashing waves. The most notable spot is called the Monster Hole, which is actually a shoal formed by a man-made sandbar that serves up 10-foot waves.
Other good surfing destinations in the county include Vero Beach Pier, where the sandbars on either side of the pier provide good waves at high tide, and Wabasso Beach Park.
A daily use fee of $8 per vehicle is charged to enter the park.
2. The Path of the Paddle
Indian River County is home to several classic Florida kayaking experiences.
Bring your kayak or rent one and paddle the Blue Cypress Lake. The lake is lined with spectacular bald cypress trees, their knees protruding from the water and their limbs draped in majestic Spanish moss. Along the 21-mile long coastline, countless Ospreys and their nests will be seen as well as the beautiful red-hued Roseate Spoonbill and the occasional alligator keeping a watchful eye on you.
Another must-see destination is paddling the Indian River itself on the Jungle Trail. This trip begins at the Jungle Trail Kayak Launch at the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge and takes you through the mangroves before reaching the open waters of the Indian River, where you can paddle for miles to explore several islands including Egret, Roosevelt ( named after Theodore Roosevelt) and Pelican Island itself.
3. Snorkeling to a wreck and treasure hunt
One of the really fun experiences you can have in Indian River County is scuba diving, but you don’t have to put on air cylinders to see an incredible sight: the wreck of the SS Breconshire, an English-built steamer that sank in these shallow waters in April 1894 on its way from Tampa to New York. You can actually snorkel there.
Located just 200 meters offshore and 20 feet below the surface, the action of the currents took their toll on the 300-foot vessel, having been shattered by the pounding of the waves, but there is still plenty to see.
Most of the ship is still very much alive, having become a limestone reef that is home to a wonderland of sea life – angelfish, rays, sea urchins. Over 400 species of marine life are found here. You may even be joined by a graceful loggerhead turtle passing by.
The ideal time to visit the wreck is when the water is clearest between May and July. You must bring and display a dive flag to be safe and let boaters know you are in the water.
Indian River County is part of Florida’s Treasure Coast, an area where over the centuries many shipwrecks have occurred with their precious cargo lost at sea.
Treasure hunters dived to the wrecks to get their share of the bounty, but we earthlings can still find a few coins and pottery shards along the shore. So bring your metal detector and give it a try.
One of your best bets is to hike the beach along the Sea Grape Beach Trail in Vero Beach. Remember that treasure hunting is only allowed on the beaches from high tide to low tide.
4. Picture Perfect
If you like photography, grab the camera bag and head to Indian River County. The landscapes, nature, sunrises and sunsets are truly magnificent.
Start your day with a beautiful sunrise and snap a little beach and ocean photography at Sebastian Inlet State Park. The park features over 3 miles of beach with crashing waves along the north pier and sea oats gently rippling in the breeze along the dunes.
Next, explore America’s first wildlife refuge, the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge. The 5,400-acre refuge was established in 1903 near Sebastian, Florida by President Theodore Roosevelt and has several trails that take you through beautiful mangrove habitats and salt marshes. The best time to visit is November through April, when you’ll have every chance to snap photos of migrating white pelicans, nesting brown pelicans, river otters, and more.
End your day with a stop at Vero Beach at Round Island Park. Nature trails criss-cross the island, leading you through groves of palm trees and seagrass to a spectacular sunset from a tall observation tower.
Again, there is an $8 per day vehicle usage fee to enter Sebastian Inlet. The other sites are free. Pelican Island offers free ranger-guided tours every Wednesday from November through March.
5. Art for art’s sake
Art lovers are in for a treat in Indian River County. The county is world renowned by artists for its tropical atmosphere that can only inspire creativity.
The hub of arts and culture is Vero Beach’s historic arts district which boasts a plethora of galleries including The Laughing Dog Gallery and Gallery 14, which features juried exhibitions and their annual Summer Squared exhibition and sale.
You can even explore your own creative side at the Vero Beach Museum of Art’s Cork, Canvas & Company event. Every Thursday you are welcome to bring your own wine and light appetizers and local artists will guide you in creating your own masterpiece. Art materials are provided.
The world of theater is no exception. Get your tickets and catch a play at America’s largest professional small-town theater, the Riverside Theatre.
6. Visit citrus groves
Driving down any of Florida’s highways or back roads, you’ll see hundreds of signs advertising local businesses selling Indian River citrus fruits, and there’s a reason – the sweet, juicy citrus fruits grown in Indian River are world famous.
To truly appreciate the sweet flavor of their legendary honey bells, red grapefruit, and freshly squeezed orange juice, you need to get it straight from the source at one of the county’s remaining citrus groves.
In 1950, traveling salesman Henry Schact decided he wanted to start a citrus grove. His Schact Groves continues its dream today with a whole selection of citrus fruits in their Citrus Shop and local treats and vegetables at the Farm Market.
Peterson Groves is one of the oldest in the county, but has grown to include locally produced honey, jellies and gourmet sauces.
Meanwhile, Countryside Family Farms has taken the roadside citrus market one step further by hosting their annual fall festival and maze. Held every October, the event has everything you would expect of a fall festival down to rubber duck races and wagon rides.
7. From casual dining to fine dining
After a full day of exploration and fun in the sun, you’ll find that Indian River County offers quite an eclectic array of restaurants that are sure to please any palate.
On the casual side, try Squid Lips Overwater Grill. As the name suggests, this fabulous restaurant sits on the water at the end of a jetty in Fins Marina. What makes their dishes special is that they are cooked over an open oak wood fire which seals in their juices and gives them a slight hint of oak. You’ll love their bacon-wrapped scallops and smoked fish dip.
Then there is Captain Hiram’s Sandbar Restaurant. Described as “the essence of Florida enhanced with a Bahamian beat”, the Sandbar is located directly on the beaches of Indian River. You can’t help but smell the tropics as you dine on mouth-watering sandwiches, seafood, and pasta dishes among palm trees. Top off your meal with an adult drink like the Roxy Rita or Painkiller.
For something with lots of Caribbean flavor, try the Zafem Caribbean restaurant, which serves spicy island flavors like Creole conch and sautéed red snapper Thursday through Saturday nights.
On the gastronomy side, an excellent choice is Vero Prime. Customers call Vero Beach Restaurant the first steakhouse, but it’s more than that. With its intimate setting perfect for a romantic evening, Vero Prime serves up the most incredible rack of lamb with half a rosemary sauce and my favourite, angel hair prawn scampi with roasted garlic, arugula and diced tomatoes, all drizzled with a white wine butter sauce.
When you visit Indian River beaches, remember that the sand dunes help protect communities from the effects of storms and are also prime nesting grounds for migrating birds and sea turtles. Use the designated walkways as you head out to the ocean and avoid the dunes.
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